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Google Glass vs. iWatch

Google Glass has huge potential but must overcome serious style issues for broad adoption. #SeeSegway

— Joe Medved (@joevc) April 25, 2013

I posted the above tweet last week and got mixed reactions. Google Glass technology could dramatically impact many professions and see related use quickly. However, for broad consumer adoption, the technology needs to be embedded to the point it’s essentially hidden. Until then, vanity will severely constrain growth.

There is an alternative that could deliver much of the same data at a glance. The iWatch concept rumored from Apple could see rapid consumer adoption given its more socially acceptable, glanceable UI. Many reporters over the past week testing Google Glass have questioned the way it makes users look, quickly coining the phrase glasshole for someone willing to walk around wearing the device.They look awkward and create a strange conversation dynamic with a screen and forward facing camera in between you and whoever you’re speaking with.

Alternatively, looking down at your watch is a human behavior that’s been in place for a few hundred years. I am one of those geeks walking the streets of Manhattan staring down at my phone, and I’d feel much more comfortable glancing at my wrist. Without pulling your phone out of your pocket, an iWatch could deliver email headlines, texts, IMs, social media updates and photos, news headlines, weather alerts, and caller ID. Beyond glanceable consumption, with a simple touch interface I could swipe through messages and delete them, look through photos and like them, save stories to read later, or send calls to voicemail. I could give similar commands to Google Glass through my voice, if I didn't mind the whole glasshole thing. We shouldn’t care what strangers think of us, but if we’re honest I think most of us do.

While I agree with the notion that many great consumer devices were once considered toys, I can’t forget gadgets like the Segway that geeks thought would change the world. It turns out most people feel goofy riding around with a helmet on a Segway, and as my friend Rob Go pointed out, you didn’t have to wear a Segway on your face.

An iWatch is a toy that geeks have dreamed of since they read Dick Tracy comics, and it’s one that overcomes the vanity issues facing products like Google Glass and Segway. I think Google Glass has an incredible future as its form is improved, but I’d bet on an iWatch in the near term if Apple or some other big platform player brings one to market.

Will the watch be the smartest wearable?

How do you make a wearable device popular with the mainstream consumer? Mix simplicity with fashion. What machine has delivered that recipe for over a century? The watch, which was popularized around World War I. Pocket watches had been around for centuries prior, but functional need, fashion and advanced design drove mass adoption of the "wristlet." Soldiers started strapping pocket watches to their wrists in battle. Manufacturers caught on and made them stylish, and the wristwatch hit the mainstream.

Google Glass is a wearable that hit the mark on function but not fashion. Until the device is effectively hidden, even Diane von Furstenberg won't have models wearing Glass of their own volition. As I posted at its launch, Glass will have fascinating early commercial use cases but needs to address vanity to reach the consumer market -

The smartwatch, however, could be a revolutionary device in the near term, with bigger potential than tablets. 1.2 billion watches are sold every year, that's more than 1 for every 7 people. They're clearly not all high end, but the watch is one of the most widely accepted accessories on the planet. Glasses blanket the population as well, but a watch is more behaviorally suited for a consumptive screen.

Pebble broke the smartwatch market by capturing the imagination of early adopters. Android Wear has teased us with the potential for something more mainstream. As an Android user, I've been tracking all the reviews for the new smartwatches from Samsung, LG and Motorola but haven't pulled the trigger yet. It still feels like something is missing. The designs aren't quite there, and critics are complaining about a lack of simplicity. Too much info is being squeezed into a tiny interface.

Most watches today have a single, simple app - the clock. Smartwatches can obviously provide so much more data through your phone, such as caller ID, email headlines, text, IM, calendar notifications, navigation, and weather. These are compelling use cases for consumers to reduce the 150 times per day, on average, that they use their phones.

But what could watches do far better than a phone? Perhaps act as a digital key, a method of mobile payment, or enable simple touch to talk. Watches are practically adhered to your body, part of your fluid motion, not something that needs to be removed from your pocket or bag. They are a natural fashion accessory. The smaller size provides far superior battery life. With advances in wireless charging, they could practically seem like they never have to be charged.

A broad array of wrist-first applications would come in time with a large consumer base, but what we need first is a killer hardware/software combo. We need the design vision Steve Jobs had for the iPhone. We need the iWatch to shock everyone with elegant simplicity.

So does Apple think they have that mainstream breakthrough product with the iWatch? Let's compare expectations to their revolutionary smartphone and tablet products. In the iPhone's first five quarters, 6 million units were sold. The iPad sold 3 million units in the first 80 days. Rumor has it Apple plans to launch the iWatch in October manufacturing 3-5 million per month, with a goal of 50 million units sold in the first year! We'll see if the next hardware revolution is coming this fall.

NOTE: We're investors in the simple and fashionable Fitbit, and I'm a geek that will use a smartwatch as well whether or not it gets mainstream adoption.

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